Friday, 10 March 2017

Sam's Memoirs



 This is a departure from my normal blog content, but the information here means a lot to me and goes some way to explaining my interest in local history.

My eldest son Sam is named after his great grandad, Julies grandad Sam. Sadly Sam passed away before we could complete taking down his memoirs. What was recorded is transcribed below, and forms an interesting account of rural and farm life in early 20th century Yorkshire,

Transcript of Sam G Memoirs

Chapter 1

In the following pages, I will try to tell of the memories of a very happy childhood, before the 51 years of my working life. I left school at 14 years of age and retired from work on my 65th birthday. I can’t believe that it was over half a century. Looking back, time seems only a flash.

Quite some time before I left school, I was working in the morning, before school, and also after school. Occasionally, I would get my mark at school and then go to help local farmers and tradesmen (not forgetting the lord of the manor with his annual shooting parties!).

To write ones memoirs also gives a certain amount of pleasure – remembering the happy times. The 'not so good' times seem to disappear and seem less important. Although I remember some very tough times, most of them were whilst I was still a very young person. Very few people have been as fortunate as I – to see such different ways of life. First, I was in farm service (paid a yearly wage, with a yearly contract – beginning the first week of December, but ending on the 23rd of November). I had 8 years of this. Later, I was to be directed to work in the coal mines by the (then) minister of labour, Mr Ernest Bevin. 11th February saw me on my way to Askern Colliery to train for the life of a miner. This was an entirely different life. After a short time I began to put up with it and later, although I did not like it, I made the most of this time of my life. This gave me the chance to experience and enjoy working with those men who daily risked life and limb for the comfort of the community and industry.

            Back then to farming and the river Hull Catchments Board... and back to farming – moving from the East Riding to South Yorkshire. In those days, very few farm workers had 'free' houses. I would say, almost 95% lived in 'tied' cottages. For this, there are good points for both the employer and employee. The cottages were, almost always, on the farmstead. The worker was, almost always, on call. However, a good point for the worker, was that he would pay a little less rent and he could get home at lunchtime. But, if he wanted to change his employment, he always had to get out of the cottage.

It was not until 1955 that an opportunity for change came to me. Immediately, I felt I could earn more money in other kinds of work. For a time, I worked for a 'small time' builder, whilst at the same time working for W. H. Smith – this involved rising at 2.15a.m. To unload the papers that came to Doncaster by train, they arrived at 2.45 a.m.

Then in 1959, came the chance to work on the motorway. This was the year that the A1(M) motorway was started and quite a lot of local labour was needed. After pestering the various foremen for several days, at last I was set on. This profession I followed for over 20 years – from labourer, through the ranks, to General Foreman.

During the final years of my working life, I had the pleasure of working in the Hospital service as a porter. The memories of childhood, many happy, a few not so, are the ones which I hope to relate to you in the following chapters. Trying to remember – and going back to 1926 – over 60 years!


Chapter 2

I remember starting school. I was told I went to school before I was 5 years of age. Vera, my elder sister, had been going for over a year. I’ve no doubt I was kept in line! During this period, Dad and Mother lived at Coniston. I still recall a few incidents from that house. The saddest one being when we lost a baby sister, only 3 weeks old. I remember the funeral, very faintly. Being too young to go to the service, we were looked after by a family friend.

I remember also, when Alfred, Vera, and Allan were taken to hospital with Scarlet Fever. I recall the words of the man who took them. He said to Robert and I - “we'll be back in a day or so for you two!”, fortunately, we did not have to go. I also remember, one Christmas, a load of geese were unloaded for Dad and Mother to pluck and dress. A few days later, the man picked them up. He said he was taking everything back except the quack or squawk! One other thing I remember – I’m almost sure, the boss Dad worked for, a farmer, by the name of Mr Harper, was blind, and occasionally he would want leading by the hand.

November 1926 saw the family moving to near Lockington. This farm, owned by a Mr Dixon, is some 300-400 yards from where the tragic train crash happened in the summer of 1986. Each school morning we walked across a grass field to get to the school transport. This was a covered-in wagonette, pulled by a horse. The wagonettes journey started at a little hamlet, known as Aike. Alf, my elder brother, being older was not allowed to ride on the school transport, but, always, ran behind it. 'The Monkey Bus' we called it! The school we attended was in the village of Lockington, some two and a half to three miles away.

I do not recall many vivid or important happenings whilst we were at Lockington, except that Margaret, a sister, was born there. Also, Dad got blood poisoning in his foot and was taken to hospital. One other thing, there was a work horse who could open the stable door with his tongue and it would then walk into the stable! The boss's son was away at boarding school, but when he was on holiday we got into mischief together! We dare not do the same tricks if we were not in his company!

The contract of the 'Hind', or foreman on farms normally ran from November to November, but, this particular time Dad and his employer had a difference of opinion and so his contract finished some time previous. So, the November of 1927, we moved to Catwick – a farm in the parish of Kilnwick. The lord of the manor was Captain Suthel Byron (more of this gentleman later!)

If ever there was a place of beauty, this was it! Even as a very small boy, I think I appreciated this beauty. Looking from the bedroom window, across the vegetable garden, you could see a lake. This lake was stocked with every kind of wild fowl, and its water could be harnessed to drive the grinding mills, etc, of the farm. To get to school you walked down, through a garden (through arches of rambling roses) over a stream by a planked bridge... through woodland, over another wooden bridge, over a grass field... a further bridge, down a footpath... along a narrow field and finally passed a hut. This hut might have been a postman’s hut, or it might have belonged to a cobbler! I really don’t know! In later years, I thought that possibly, the postman was a cobbler and that maybe in between his morning delivery and evening collection, he did cobbler work!

There was nothing outstanding at the school in Kilnwick, except that it was there that I first played football! In those days, I used to think that the game was very tough, especially when you played with bigger lads. I got to like it, in later life. One of the things I remember about living at Kilnwick were the amount of rats there. Rodine was the poison – whole bread loaves were cut into one inch squares and spread with Rodine. A vessel of water was near by … I still recall the hundreds of dead rats that were picked up! This being a rather large farm, with a number of farm servants 'living in', and a single boss, who had to be looked after, Mothers life was a very busy one. For the first time, she engaged a nurse maid and a general maid to help with the work.


Chapter 3

It was during this time when my eldest brother, Alf (always keen to have a go at poaching) made himself a 'snickel' – at least that was what we named them! It was a long willow stick (7 or 8 feet long) at the end of which was a copper wire snare. With the lake and streams around, the fish were in abundance. Alf snared a Trout. His pal, who’s father worked as a Woodman (or similar) for the Lord of the Manor, wanted the Trout. After 'fisticuffs' this school pal of my brothers said he would report the incident to the landlord, Captain S-B. Sure enough, on the Monday morning – washday – the copper in the corner was full of clothes, Mother was scrubbing clothes, and walking past the window was the said gentleman. Mother rushed to the pantry. The Trout was pushed from the cold slab in the pantry and rammed under the clothes that were boiling in the copper! The kitchen door was opened to the gentleman and after some discussion the Captain was invited into the house to search for the fish! After looking into the pantry and various other places, eventually the gentleman went away, satisfied. Probably, had he stayed a little longer, he may have smelled it boiling! Many times I’ve thought about this incident, and I’m sure at heart that the Captain was aware of the mischief lads get up to and probably was more tolerant than we gave him credit for! It was later, my brothers and I were caught by this same gentleman as we were up to mischief!

            Sunday afternoon and in one of the grass fields there was a tree with low branches – ideal for swinging and bouncing up and down on! As we enjoyed ourselves that day, we did not see the Captain coming over the field, and he was upon us... with his two dogs! On being caught out, we were rather scared! The Captains words were “caught you!”, our reply was a very faint “Yes Sir”. “Are you good monks or bad monks?” he asked, “Bad monks, Sir”, “I should think so!” he replied. After lecturing us, the Captain strode away, “Don’t break the branches” being his parting comment. A few years later, I was to meet the Captain and his good lady in more happy circumstances – these I will tell later.

            As time passed, we learned that Mr D., the boss, was to be married shortly and needed the farm house. This meant moving. A new house was being built for the Foreman and staff.

            So, in the November of 1928, we moved to a council house in Watton village. From here, I have mixed memories. Those two years that Dad and Mother lived there were possibly the toughest time in their married life. Looking back over all those years, at no time either now or since, have things ever been so tough. Although I was only in my eighth year, imprinted on my memory are incidents which I shall never forget! At the same time, there were many happy times and occasions.

            It must have been early 1929 – things were very desperate! Dad was a very proud man, but on this occasion he went to seek what was then known as 'Parish Relief' – this being the last straw in getting any help, social or otherwise! On this humiliating occasion, he was told that they would bring three tons of Greystone for him to break up. At the same time, he was presented with three hammer heads, all different sizes, and a pair of small-mesh wire goggles. The stone was in massive lumps and had to be broken into pieces smaller than an egg – and the price for this was three shilling per ton! Things got better, Dad got some more regular work travelling with a Threshing machine, 'Singling' Sugar Beet, and at harvest time labouring on a local farm.

            It was November again, and Dad and Mother had been lucky enough to be engaged by a Mr Reginald Pexton of Watton Abbey. He farmed New Farm, Watton, a large arable farm. There was a large farmhouse, two stables for horses, a number of Draught horses. There were nine or ten men and boys engaged on the farm.

            One of the things I remember are the tramps, that asked for what they called 'a nights doss'. One of Dads duties was to walk around and inspect all the buildings in the farmyard, last thing at night. He would stand for no nonsense! If anything was out of place, or the tramps had not adhered to the rules as laid down, Dad would see them 'off' the place!

            This farm had the first tractors that I had ever seen, and I believe, they were the first tractors to be used on farms. The farm had its own Threshing machine and a portable engine to drive it. For those who do not know of these – horses pulled it around, but the wheel was driven by coal – the coal was used to boil water to make steam to drive the Flywheel. Still, a hired Threshing machine was used if the straw was to be baled or 'Bottled' (made into bundles for thatching), i.e. made into corn stacks after harvest. Many are the customs and practices of the Threshing Day of 55-60 years ago!

            Corn sacks had to be hired from the places that lent them out – Railways (LNER, LM&S and GWR); Fox's; Chisholme's, and Garner's – Later to amalgamate into one company, Chisholm, Fox and Garner. The wagons load would be made up of Wheat in eighteen stone bags, Barley in sixteen stone bags, Oats (if there were any for sale) in twelve stone bags. Otherwise any corn, not for immediate sale, would be emptied on the Granary floor. Some farmers, a few years later, grew peas. Peas both grey and blue kinds. I should explain, that grey peas are brown, and blue peas are green! That’s the answer I got, as a boy, and that is the answer I always give!

            Back to Threshing Day in the early 1930s. This was the usual procedure for most of the local farmers, as I remember it...

            Dad would say “machine will be in tonight”, so everything was keyed up to this. Remember, there was no electric floodlighting! Paraffin lanterns were all that there was. Many times, that evening, three small boys went into the farmyard to see if they could hear or see anything. The stack to be threshed, would have been prepared, loosened etc, earlier. The machine would be travelling from the previous farm and so the time varied according to distance. 'Full steam ahead' would be possibly 5-6 miles per hour. As the machine pulled into the farmyard, it would be met by Dad and possibly another man, and guided to the right spot. First the Threshing machine, and next, the Elevator or Baler, depending on what was happening to the straw. All straw was used in those days, if not for fodder for feeding the farmers own cattle, some was sold to the big towns and cities for the same purposes. Many hundreds of horses were used in those cities and towns.

            Back to the farm. Everything done, the 'loco' damped down. There would be Dad, accompanied by two black-faced men, about to have their evening meal. Bicycles at the ready, the 'machine men' would go home. It was extra early rising next morning because the engine driver had to have his engine ready for turning at 7 o'clock for the start. They must have started well before 5 a.m.! The farm men would have everything at the ready for 7 a.m. These men got breakfast at 6 a.m.

            Two men, farm labourers, would start throwing the sheaves on to the top of the Thresher. Another man would pick the sheaf up. In his hand he held a special knife, which he used to cut the string around the sheaf. This sheaf was then placed in the arms of a second man who fed it into the machine. From various parts of the Thresher came different parts of the corn sheaf. Two strong men were at one end where they had hung the corn sacks. Beside them would be the weights.

This particular day, it was wheat. So that, as the sacks became full, they were taken off and check-weighed, probably they had to weigh 18 stone. The good corn came from alternate slots – so one sack was filled from one and the other was filled from the other. After the corn sack was weighed, it was placed on the 'winding-up' barrow. This was where both strength and experience was needed. The 'whining' (elevator) was then used.  A handle was wound up, this took the sack of corn upwards, from there a man would carry the sack up the steps to the granary. The man who carried this sack, gently pulled it across his shoulders to do so (I’ve heard people today say that it could not be done! Many chaps, only weighing nine stone themselves, have carried these sacks for 9-1/2 and 10 hours a day!)

            Moving alongside the machine would be two of the youngest men. Each would have a hessian sheet, five or six feet square. One would be raking into the sheet chaff, which would be stocked for feed. The other man would be carrying 'pulls', these being the short ends of the straw. This would be carried into the fold yards for bedding for the stock. The straw dropped from the Threshing machine into a trough effect at the bottom of the elevator. This straw was then stacked into a tidy pile by two more men. In the meantime, the youngest boy on the farm was kept busy fetching and carrying water for the engine (for raising steam). Many a school day was missed to do this job! Some of the farmers had a horse drawn water cart – this was a luxury!

            As the loco started, a gentle hum would rise and as the momentum grew you could hear the sheaves going through, one after another. This would carry on until 09:30, then, out would come a large enamel bucket, full to the brim with tea! (with milk and sugar already in it!) There would be a basket full of 'eatings'. It could be a variety of things – it might be... A slice of egg and bacon pie, a saucer sized scone, a large jam pastry. There were such a lot of different things. Slowly the machine would steady down and gently turn over. One of the machine men would have gone round all the bearings and lubricant points before having his break.

The days timetable was -

07:00 – Start Threshing
09:30 – Ten minute break for tea
12:00 – midday until 1pm – Dinner break.

At this point, the horse men fed their horses before they had their own dinner.

15:30 – Another break for ten minutes

The completion of the stack is the next thing. If the measurements were right it would take most of the day, which ended usually at around 5.30 p.m.

            Life was enjoyable, things to do and always 'seeing and learning'. Now, after 60 years, the things I learnt have never been forgotten!


Chapter 4

A flock of ewes would all be due to have lambs. The shepherd would not go to bed for a month! Lambs would be born by the dozen. The shepherd had extra help for this period. All the sheep that were due to have lambs were brought to a special fold which had been made for them. Later, all the sheep had to have their fleeces washed. A few weeks later these fleeces had to be sheared. All very exciting to the head and eyes of a young boy!

            Harvest time! And what a time! School holidays, reaping corn, chasing rabbits when they came out of the corn. Sheaves dropped from the Binder. An hour later, the corn was 'stooked' in straight lines like soldiers. Once the corn had dried, fetching the sheaves home was top priority. Only Stockmen were allowed time off from harvesting to attend to milking and check on the other stock. Pulling the Binders, or Reapers, was warm work for the horses.

            On the big farms, this was the procedure – As soon as the corn was dry from the early morning dew, farm horses would be secured to the Binder, two to the pole and two in front. The near-side Pole horse would have a riding saddle on its back, from this the Horseman would control the horses. These horses would only work for four hours, at this time another driver and four more horses would take over. The same operator would, however, work the Sails and Points etc, of the Binder.

            Other things that I can still vividly remember – for the men who liked beer! The men had a choice of beer or tea at the break times. On one farm the shepherd had a light horse and trap and he some extra duties, twice a day. He had to go to the cellar, fill bottles with beer and then go and collect the tea and 'eatables', load them into the trap and deliver them to the men. He would, possibly, have to go to three or four different fields.

            Harvest meant long hours. During the harvest month, every man and boys hours were 7 a.m. To 7 p.m. 'Stooking' and Reaping. Fetching the corn home could even mean 7 a.m. To 8 p.m. Five days a week. Saturday’s hours were probably 7 a.m. To 5 or 6 p.m.

            Here, I would like you to think of, and bear with, the farm workers wife! Normally the weekly paid men would not get paid until after mid-day on Saturday. Harvest time, sometimes they would not receive their pay until after 5 or 6 p.m. Some of the women would be waiting for their husbands coming home to be able to go to the shops to buy foodstuffs and the Sunday joint. Not many farm workers got 'any worse for drink' on a Saturday night!

            Saturdays – I remember! - Churning Day! What contrary stuff cream is! I must add, at this point, that Mother was feeding and looking after seven or eight, and sometimes nine, farm men and boys, so part of a Foreman’s wage was a milk cow (two at times), also free feed for a couple of bacon pigs, which were eventually killed. This meant fresh butter, curd, bacon and ham. There was, usually, a big garden and swedes from the field. Although potatoes were not grown on the scale of later years, there was always some grown in the field for home use.

            Back now to Saturdays. Three brothers – myself, Robert and Allan. Mother had got the churn ready, laden with cream. The task ready to begin! Myself, being the elder of the three, had to take first turn. The butter churn was turned round and round, propelled by our arms. At one end of the church was a glass window (not for peeping through!). So long as the cream was in its liquid state, it showed in that glass window. What a welcome sight to see it clean. That is why I said cream was contrary – some days, it would only take an hour to beat it to butter, probably the next time, three or four hours, and even longer!

            Mother would have curds hanging, draining. Many an hour I have spent, watching Mother, firstly weighing all the butter into one pound and half-pound pieces. Next, the butter pats! - Pat! Pat! Pat! It seemed hours, each slab of butter, uniform size, with a fancy mark on top! Curd had to be weighed too, usually into an enamel bucket. Sometimes on a Thursday morning, Vera, my elder sister, and myself would take a basket full of butter and a bucket of curd to the local provision merchant. This was the surplus to what was being used in the house.


Chapter 5

November 1931 saw Dad and Mother moving to a cottage (one of a batch of three). Further to walk to school. It did not seem to bother anyone that we remained at the same school. This we did until my eldest sister was almost at leaving age. Then, with a younger brother about to start school, we transferred to Hutton Cranswick school. Watton school had been a Church of England school. Hutton Cranswick was County Council. Much of the work that I had to do there I had already been over previously!

            One incident I well remember – poetry! “None of the boys seem to care for poetry” Miss S. the teacher would say. “I want you to learn”. She would tell us the name of the poem and would say that as soon as we had learned it and could recite it to her then we could go home! This one was one we had learnt at the previous school! 'Ode to and Englishman', starting 'Breathes there the man with soul so dead, Who never to himself hath said,' After a short time, the teacher allowed me to recite it – Hey Presto! For the first, and only, time, I got out of school early this particular lesson!

            Hutton Cranswick was an ideal lads school. The headmaster had been a keen cricketer. In fact, I believe in his younger days an all-round sportsman. So we got plenty of sport – especially cricket. If you hurried, from this school you could get home for the mid-day meal. No doubt, it made it better for Mother for this meal. Many an afternoon, us three lads would go for firewood. About a mile away was a plantation with plenty of broken wood and boughs. Three bundles of wood would have been collected, tied, and wedged tight. Then, time to scrounge around to look for birds nests and then back home.


Chapter 6

            You may wonder how the long winter evenings were spent. After all was cleared away, out would come the Rug Frame. This frame was specially made to hold the base of Hessian, which was used for 'Pricked' rugs. These rugs were made of four inch by half-inch strips of various cloth, doubled through the Hessian, a very effective and warm rug. Dad would draw the pattern for the more elaborate ones. Mother would have spent many hours clipping the cloth to shape. Even old clothes were not wasted. Clipped Peg Rugs, before the 1939 war, were very common. Everyone took pride in them. A large Hessian sack (well washed), a Rug Frame, a few broken pegs (split and pointed) and the clips (cut ready).

            If the accumulator was charged up, you could listen to the radio. The accumulator had to be charged up by the local cycle dealer in the next village. This meant a long walk for someone! Fourpence was the cost and this was not always available, so this would have to wait until the weekend. Always, at home, there was a home-made 'Housey', it was run by Dad – Army style. He would make all the cards, cut the numbers out and always called the numbers from a basin. He would, occasionally, call as they had been called to the soldiers in the field in the 1914 – 1918 war. We always called 'House' or 'Housey'. I think that 'Bingo' etc came years afterwards!

            Time went on. We were growing up. School holidays came around – Hutton Cranswick school holidays. The school closed for a week when it was Beverley Race Week! I well remember – it would be 1933 – it was turnip sowing time, which meant May, when these holidays came around.
The local farmer came and asked if I could help him during these holidays. Monday morning I was leading the front horse in the turnip drill! These days seemed like weeks!

            This time in my life was full of surprises. Saturdays – beating for game on a nearby estate. One Saturday, going to the nearby village, I was invited to help the local butcher. Besides owning the butchers shop, he had a small-holding. For many months, I could be seen helping the butcher, not only on a Saturday, but also each night after school. The butcher had two cows and it wasn’t long before I was milking them and also feeding the stock. This butcher had three grown sons. One did the butchery work, the second eldest was a groom at a well-known riding stables. The youngest of these three also wanted to be a groom. When a vacancy occurred, he left home to go to the stables. The butcher approached Dad and asked if I could go live with them. This meant that I was milking early morning, feeding the stock, and then going to school. For this, I received, on a Saturday night, a small joint of meat, a few Beef sausages, and maybe two Shilling – every little counted in those days!

            Many a day, the butcher would get permission for me to leave school early (especially Mondays). This was the night that the slaughtering took place. I should have been one of the best long-distance runners in the area, the weekly practice I got! Heres why – A local farmer, who fattened up Bullocks, sold one each week to the local butcher. Every six weeks, a load of six big Bullocks would go to Driffield Cattle Market for grading purposes. They were then brought back home and turned into the grass field or fold yard, depending on time of year. Early each Saturday morning, I would be taken to the farm. A beast would be selected and I had to drive it back to the butchers! This was a distance of possibly three and a half or four miles. Every direction but the right one! All the spirit had to be run out of the beast before you could drive it the way you wanted it to go! Manys the day it’s been mid-afternoon before we got to our destination! To travel those three and a half or four miles, the Bullock and I travelled possibly twenty to twenty-five miles mostly at a run!


Chapter 7

            Hutton Cranswick is a very beautiful village where many houses open out and look onto the village green. The main street runs down one side of the green. In the early 30's there was probably, I would guess, about fifteen people who owned two, three or even more milk cows. Surrounding the village were lanes and roads. All of these had wide verges and throughout the spring and summer these cows would graze these various areas.

            Each year, one boy, usually a boy leaving school at Easter, was given the job as Herdsman.
9 o'clock would see twenty-five to thirty cows, all collected on the village green, waiting to be taken to graze by this particular boy. It is possible that the first week, the cows needed to be taken by the boy, but they very soon learned the routine. The same thing happened when they returned at 4.30p.m.. They soon learned their own way back home. It was a marvellous sight, six days per week.

            This was my last year at school. As the spring approached, I was, along with other lads of the village, offered many little tasks. Saturday morning – pulling Kettlocks from the corn rows. I recall one evening, at home. A knock came on the door. Mother went to answer it and said there was a lady who wanted to see me – A Mrs. W. Her question? Would I go and milk her husband’s cows the following morning? I promised to do this. It meant a very early rising next morning. The husband had a very severe attack of influenza. Fortunately, this only lasted for a day or two!

            One night as I was returning home from school, a local farmer approached me. He had been looking at his cattle. The field they were in was the same field that was used by the Hutton Cranswick show. It was a field of about forty acres. There was an abundance of Thistle in this same field and approaching me the farmer asked if I would mow the Thistles down for him. He would lend me a scythe. I started each morning, early, for days. The Thistles never seemed to decrease! But after two or three weeks he gave me a ten Shilling note and asked if I would go to the farmstead that same afternoon. He had some more work for me. This meant another paddock, nearer to the farm, which had Thistles to be chopped down.


Chapter 8

            As harvest time approached, arrangements were made and I spent a full month at the same farm as Alf, my eldest brother. Getting up at 'the crack of dawn'. Again, helping to milk, breakfast and then into the harvest field. By this time, you can imagine, I was feeling grown up! The only time I went home was at the weekend. Sundays were spent with another lad – poaching etc!
           
            Once back to school, it was the last year. A year well done I remember! Two horse carriages brought children to Hutton Cranswick school. One brought the children from Rotsea and the other from Watton Carrs. One morning, the chap who came from Rotsea called the Headmaster over and asked him if I could help him for the day. I had no say in the matter! The chap had a farm and three sons who were working for him. These lads were lifting Mangolds. I suppose the farmer thought another lad would be a help. I believe he was good to me, treated me well, plenty to eat and financially – that was the end product! Unfortunately, I did not think of the clothes that I was spoiling!

            Christmas time. I helped with the plucking of poultry at the village butchers. The routine was the same until spring. Everyone now was getting excited and making arrangements for the Coronation of King George V and Queen Mary. This was something never to be forgotten! Each of us lads – blue blazer and Flannels, yes! Mine were long trousers. Many lads, almost all, wore short trousers until they left school. A wonderful day - Coronation day! Beautiful weather and much celebrating! The next day, the Headmaster borrowed a cycle for me. He had lost his Greyhound 'Nell'. I spent most of the day searching for the dog. I never found it, but I enjoyed the search.


Chapter 9

            As the school holidays got nearer, so did the local Show and Sports. In the 1930s Hutton Cranswick Show and Sports was a marvellous affair, possibly one of the best village shows etc in the county. At night, after the show, there were children’s races, followed by motorcycle grass track and horse racing. The judge for these races was Captain Byron and his good lady. Mr Edmund Morris's (the secretary) tent was some distance from the winning post. This meant a 'bell boy' or 'runner' was needed. I was chosen and asked if I would do this. The judge and his lady were sitting on a farm dray at the winning post. My job was to take the slips to the secretary’s tent as quickly as possible. This went off quite well and after the meeting the Captain thanked me and his lady gave me half a Crown! This was a lot of money in 1935!

            The same week as the show, the school had closed for Summer Holidays and I had left school. The end of July 1935 – Sam G had left school, and was ready to seek his fortune!

            After almost ten years at six different schools, what had I learnt? Now, looking back, I believe I was slightly above average, learning some things more easily than others. At the same time, remembering many things that were said then, in later years. Almost everything that anyone said was taken to be the truth. By this, I mean, from your parents and adults you helped everyday you learned something. You learned in those early years, knowledge that stays in your mind and memory for the rest of your life. Today, many things come to mind, things that were said over sixty years ago!
Chapter 10

            Each school was different. What can I best remember about each one and the villages? One school had the following across the front “This school is the property of the council and aldermen of London” Or something very similar. Why this? I have no idea! Brandesburton in 1920 – 1930s was a small village of small-holdings with the local tradespeople – Joiners shop, Saddlers shop, Post Office, two Public Houses, Meat vendor and Butcher. It had gravel pits starting all around. I recall there was one certain hill – but it’s no longer there now! There was always a first class Cricket ground and Tennis courts. The hall, before the 1930s, belonged to the Bureaucracy, but it was later sold to become a home for the mentally handicapped.

            Grandad was a local small-holder. In those days, he had a contract for cutting the grass on the Cricket ground and Tennis courts. This he did with a horse drawn lawn mower. I recall him putting leather boots on the horse so as not to damage the turf.  The grounds in those days were at the big hall. When the hall was sold, the previous owners (I believe they were two sisters, Misses Rydal) had a beautiful new ground laid and presented to the village. Today it must be one of the most pleasant village sports grounds in Yorkshire.

            Each year, the annual flower show was a very special occasion. Village life was something special in those days. This village school was the first one I attended, for as a small boy I spent some time with my grandparents. Both Dads Mother and Father lived there as well as Mothers Mother. I was taken to both the Wesleyan Chapel and also the Primitive Chapel. Grandparents on Dads side used on, whilst Mother's Mother used the other. Mothers Father was dead, I never ever saw him. This village was my birth place – Stockwell Lane!




Saturday, 4 March 2017

Underhand / Bad Trading Practices on ebay

As is known, I do get a lot of small electronic parts from the Far East on ebay. Normally, this isnt much of a problem. Some items are poor copies, some just dont work, and some get lost on the voyage around the world. On the whole, the sellers normally deal with these issues well.

But ive started to become very annoyed by a couple of practices ive noticed from the Far East sellers which, although whether they actually infringe ebays selling policies is open to debate, are to me clearly infringements of the morality of trading.

Below is a very recent example of one of these


Spot the difference
Take a look at the counter-offer price from the seller, now look at the 'Buy It Now' price. Spot the difference? No - because there isnt one! This is something I have been seeing from many sellers recently, particularly in relation to Arduinos and other small electronics modules.

To me, if you are going to offer a 'Best Offer' option, then you should be prepared to consider the offer and accept something somewhere between 10 to 50% off. But these sellers are sending counter offers that are either exactly the Buy It Now price, or a discount of 1%! Sorry, but as far as I am concerned, and I would imagine many others as well, 1% is NOT a discout! Its an INSULT! YOU want to sell us your stock - dont insult your potential buyers!

It does piss me off. These sellers are making an 'offer' to draw buyers, and then just wasting the buyers time! Sadly there is no easy way to report this underhand practice to ebay, so I have done so using the 'Tell us what you think' link at the top of the search page. I would strongly suggest that my readers do the same, and share this bad practice around!

Another very annoying and insulting practice, which I am sure does contravene ebays selling practices, is that of making a listing with the desired product in the title and its picture, but then when you go to the sale page, finding a drop down list under which the listed item is much more expensive, and another useless or unwanted item (such as a few SIL pins) is listed at the advertised price


Sale of Nano yes?
Example above is from the search page. No hint that the Nano isnt the item for 99p is there? It is perfectly reasonable to expect the higher price to be for a multiple. But no...



What is on offer for 99p is some generic amplifier board. But that isnt mentioned in the title, or hinted at in the photo! Instead the actual Arduino is £3! And thats more expensive than most of the sellers who are listing them honourably! To me this is very underhand and tantamount to false pretences.

Please, report these bad practices where you see them! As if its not bad enough the uncontrolled level of shill bidding and multiple parallel accounts used to smooth out the bad feedback, or the 'instructions' sent by the seller to 'only leave full 5 star positive feedback' which is definately against ebay policy!





Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Reverse Engineering the 4160C LED Message Board

Work on this is progressing very well. In a way this shouldnt be a surprise, after all, each board is a 2x5 array of 8x8 LED bicolour arrays, so it could be expected that much of the circuitry would be duplicated.

The first breakthrough was discovering that although each 8x8 array has under it a 14094 8-stage shift register and a 62083 8-ch Darlington sink driver, these are not a single elemental unit! Rather, the 8x8 LED arrays work as parallel pairs, top and bottom, and their associated chips are likewise divided into RED Cathode select, and GREEN Cathode select. The pairs of ICs under the top row of LED arrays handle the green cathodes, and the IC pairs under the bottom row of arrays handle the red cathodes - for both arrays in the column.

The result is 5 columns of paired LED arrays, with the green cathode selectors under the top array, and the red under the bottom.

So far so good. Next up was identifying that the two 14049 hex buffers are effectively the 'ends' of the data chain. One is where the data comes in, and the other where it goes out to the next board. Two of the lines from these are the strobe and output enable lines for the above chips.Two others are the data lines for the above - more on these later!

The other two lines from the hex buffers I have yet to positively identify, but one I think is the clock line.

The remaining ICs on the board, three 4015 dual 4-stage shift registers and three 62003  7-ch Darlington sink drivers, along with ten MJE210 medium power PNP's, handle the selection of the rows of anodes. All the 8 rows of anodes on each 8x8 matrix are in parallel with the rest of the arrays on that row. There are other connections involved here that I have yet to map.

Back to the data lines mentioned above. These were the big moment of understanding for me - one data line goes to the first shift register in the top row - with all the top row registers then 'daisy chained', until the data line reaches the 'output' hex buffer. The same occurs with the other data line for the bottom row. So in order to select a specific colour and column cathode, the data is serially shifted right along the board, and indeed the entire display, until the appropriate bits are all set.


The Sexy World of Reverse Engineering

Mention 'reverse engineering' to the average layman, and it conjures up images of secretive high tech labs dismantling high tech state of the art state secret equipment, or of the Russians in the early 1950s taking apart, bolt by bolt, a captured USAAF B-29, and exactly recreating it as the Tupulov Tu-4.

So the world of reverse engineering is one of high tech, super sexy James Bond like secrets and super spies...

....er, actually, no. In reality its a long, drawn out, painstaking process of careful accurate measurements. And here is what it looks like
The tedium of reverse engineering
Luckily, this isnt a B-29 Superfortress! What it is, is one of the LED display panels from the Spectrum 4160C message display board!

I have been trying everything I can think of to get information, data, firmware etc, for this unit. But so far all to no avail. Sadly the response from Alpha-american was far from helpful, it seems they are only interested in selling me a firmware EPROM (which might not even be the problem!). Spectrum corporation have been more helpful, with a few hints as to possible issues etc.

I suppose that I cant expect too much from a big company on the other side of the Atlantic. I cant prove to them that my intentions are charitable, and of course they do have to consider their profits and protect the Intellectual Property, which I respect.

So it looks very unlikely that I will be able to get the display working under its own computers control! My only option then would be to directly address the displays.

Heres a close up of one of the display panels. As far as ive discovered so far, all five panels in the display are identical, and work by cascading serial data along them from the controller.


In many ways the panels are quite straightforward. Two rows of five 8x8 common anode arrays of bicolour LEDs, with Darlington drivers and high current PNP transistors. Where it gets complicated, is the various shift registers involved with selecting the appropriate  rows/columns, etc etc, this is what I am in the process of finding out!


Probably not easy to see, but the above is the sketched out schematic of the shift registers and darlington sink drivers that handle the left hand column pair of arrays. I have papers like this for most of the sections of the board now. The big task will be to consolidate them all, and expand this one to cover the other four columns of arrays. Oh, and then to work out what the data format is to address the LEDs!

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Alpha/Spectrum 4160C LED Message Board - Need Firmware!

The title says it all really!

I have a Spectrum/Alpha-American 4160C LED message board. I wish to get this running for use by the Lions, but it has a custom Mitel firmware EPROM in it! To get it working I need the standard firmware that will allow RS485/RS232 programming. Sadly, Alpha want well over £100 for the EPROM!

I have emailed them back, trying to appeal to their sense of charity, if not to provide the firmware, then at least the schematics! That way, I can find a way to directly drive the display using say an R-Pi or an Arduino or the like as the driver controller.

If anyone reading this blog has, or knows where there is, a 4160C LED message board, from which they can extract the EPROM, read it, and send me the hex file, I would be incredibly grateful!

Im putting this request out everywhere I can think of! I have also started to 'reverse engineer' the display, and already have some idea how the individual panels are addressed and the serial data decoded to the LEDs. Its all done with shift registers and darlington sink drivers.

I would be much further along, butit wasnt until after i'd spent some time puzzling why one chip seemed to not connect to anything else - that I found the wire had snapped to one of my test probes!

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Infra Red Illuminators

I have dash cams in my car. Alright so thats no big reveal. However, one thing I have noticed is that when driving at night, the rear facing camera is incapable of recording vehicle details, due to being swamped by their headlights.

My thoughts are that if the camera was supplemented by a powerful infrared illuminator, this would provide sufficient reflected IR to allow the camera to register the details of at least a vehicle close behind. The principle being much the same as using a fill flash on a still camera to bring out detail on an otherwise washed out scene.

So I obtained a cheap IR LED lamp module. This has, I discovered, a CdS photoresistor to turn it on when the light level is low.

Being IR, its not so easy to test as a visible lamp! So, I let the CCD camera in my phone take a look at its output, with the lights off (so activate the sensor)


On the bench, it certainly looks bright! I suspect that the CdS cell will need to be disabled in use, otherwise the headlights of a following vehicle with turn the IR off!

I have also today returned to the big LED message board. Now, theres no way im ever going to get the firmware for this, so my only option is to find out what data it needs to drive its panels, and recreate that using another method. Each of the panels (I think theres six), has ten LED dot matrix arrays, in two rows of five, and each LED dot matrix is an 8x8 array. Each array has identical driver arrangements consisting of several ICs and transistors. There are also other ICs which look to be responsible for the addressing of the arrays and the panels. Luckily, none are custom devices, but are all standard logic devices.

So the fun of reverse engineering one of the display 'cells' to find out the actual circuit, has begun. Already, I know several of the connections between the chips. Its just a case of lots and lots of continuity tests!

Magic Morse!

I mentioned in the last post that I had been looking at a Morse code trainer using Arduino by a chap called Ray Burnett. Well, today I used his code (once i'd worked out how it all went together) to program up one of my Arduino Nanos.

I didnt do that first though. First I programmed the code into the Pro Mini (the one with legs but a duff regulator from yesterday), using it as an exercise in finding the right point to release the reset button! But I then realised that the Pro Mini is 3.3v and the LCD I had knocking about is 5v.

So I instead programmed up Sam's Arduino Uno, and breadboarded the circuit. All seemed to go together nicely, apart from the Words Per Minute control, which didnt seem to want to play. I eventually worked out that this was because I was trying to use the old codes method of a 10K pot, but the new version code uses a process of reading a 'key down' situation to select the Word speed. Once I realised this everything started going nicely.

I couldnt of course monopolize Sam's machine, so I transferred the code yet again, this time to a spare Arduino Nano. One of my stock of 16x2 LCDs was unsoldered, so ideal for this project! All the connections for the Arduino, plus the contrast control pot and the backlight resistor were soldered direct to the LCD pads. A 3.5mm jack socket and a piezo sounder from the junk box, plus a 5mm tricolour LED, completed the electronics

Under test on the bench
But it is no use as a loose jumble on the bench! I needed a box for it, and as luck would have it the remains of an old chinese component tester were kicking about! A bit of filing, and liberal use of hot-melt glue (im now in need of resupply of glue sticks!) and the Magic Morse Machine v.8.0 is now a boxed and complete project!

Magic Morse Trainer v.8.
At some point it could do with a DC socket fitting so it can operate without USB power, and the various leftover holes need covering. I did fit the LCD the wrong way around, but its not a big problem. Incidentally if powered by USB, the Serial Monitor in the Arduino IDE can be used as a display. I have added an extra micro USB socket, just for power (the Arduino has a Mini USB, which is a bit rare these days).

So, not any of the projects I should have been working on! But one completed anyway.